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Young toddlers are becoming more excited about independence but are constantly reminded of their own limits. So while they insist on doing something "Myself!" one moment, the next might find them turning to Mom or Dad for help.
The way toddlers learn what they can do is by getting their hands into everything. They fiddle with knobs, open and shut doors, flip light switches on and off – it's enough to drive any parent nuts. Toys with interlocking parts – pop-up toys, nesting toys, sorting toys, trucks with doors that open and shut – create endless opportunities children to explore and push their limits while keeping them away from the light switch.
At this age, children learn best from unstructured play. Make the toys available and off they'll go.
Toys to play house: Your child will get a kick out of play eating and drinking, so a little tea set with cups and plates is sure to be a hit. And in general, scaled-down toys, from rakes, push brooms to shopping carts, give him a chance to do one of the things he loves best – mimic what he sees the adults around him do.
Large and small blocks: Working with blocks lets your toddler build handling skills by grabbing, stacking, and sorting. Large cardboard bricks easily become toddler-size forts and hiding spaces. Small wooden ones can be sorted and organized into any number of original designs.
Toy instruments: Children generally love music and the chance to create their own sound, no matter how cacophonous. Give her a toy guitar to strum or a keyboard to bang on and she'll treat you to many original compositions.
Puzzles: Puzzles are a good way to give your young child little victories – the simple satisfaction of putting something exactly in place is a marvelous thing. Choose puzzles that have very few pieces and are made of thick, easy-to-manipulate blocks of wood.
Illustrated books and audio books: Recorded stories are no substitute for reading to your child, but many toddlers do enjoy the novelty of hearing a voice come out of a machine and can appreciate that the voice is new and different. The regular patter of nursery rhymes is particularly pleasing to a toddler's ear. When you read to him, ask him if he can name things he sees in the pictures. For more ideas, see our recommended books and music for this age.
Train sets: Your toddler can use her new dexterity to link the cars and run the whole train around the house. She'll love seeing how it can take corners and feeling the difference between running it over a carpet and across a bare floor.
Balls: Give your child balls to kick, roll, and throw, and take a few minutes to practice kicking the ball back and forth. When he gets good at that, encourage him to try to run and kick. It's great for developing coordination and is lots of fun, too!
Washable crayons and paper: Your child is becoming more interested in making her own mark – on floors, walls, furniture. Clear a space for her to work, give her a big sheet of paper (tape it to the table) and a couple of crayons. (You don't want to overwhelm her with too many choices.) She'll soon get the idea that art has its place. Hang up whatever she makes for you. (See our article on writing and your toddler.)
See our tips on toy safety.